Anita Lopez unplugged


I went to the Ottawa Tavern Tuesday night to hear Anita Lopez in the Tavern’s “political party” series. It’s a fun and revealing venue.

And Ms. Lopez was unplugged — no filters, no spin.

She was confrontational, calling audience members out. She aired her grievances with the men now running Toledo and with newspaper reporters. She spun tales of clueless and indifferent bureaucrats. At one point she asked the crowd how many had been in public service and at least half of the people in the room raised their hands. No wonder she seemed to have less support at the end of the night than at the beginning.

But it was more than that. Ms. Lopez is so often incoherent, and at such length, that people turn away. Prolonged exposure seems to slow the listener’s brain activity.

Asked what she accomplished on the school board, Ms. Lopez said she was a role model and opposed bonuses and trips. Asked about more bike paths, she said she wants a walkable downtown. Asked who she would hire to run departments for her, she said: the best and the brightest; new, younger people, and the veterans on her current staff.

I began to feel sorry for her. She reminded me of a standup comic who has too little good material, so she tries to hold the crowd by heckling the hecklers. She asked one questioner: “Are you still listening to me?”

People say she is like a young Carty Finkbeiner. But the young Carty, though full of passion, always did his homework.

Ms. Lopez’s basic pitch is that she would do as mayor what she did as auditor. She would streamline and organize. Beyond that, she says she would make everyone in city government work longer hours and do “two or three times as much” — everyone, that is, who isn’t fired. One of her supporters told me the other day, shaking his head, that labor is in for a shock if Ms. Lopez is elected.

Ms. Lopez seems to believe the job of being mayor is to kick some hide. That’s part of the job, certainly, but there there has to be a reason for the kicking; otherwise, it is just a power trip.

I like the Ottawa Tavern. It’s not exactly a “dive bar” (meant as a term of endearment here). But it is a dark bar. I have no illusions about the power of booze to mess up lives. It’s stupid to romanticize the drinking life. But there is something wonderful, and very American, about a political event in a saloon. The folk can really speak up, and talk back. To me, it was a far more telling forum than the debates that have been held so far.

The rap on Ms. Lopez earlier in this campaign was that she needed handlers to talk. That was wrong. She has no trouble talking. And she is not intimidated by anyone, which is admirable in one way. But a smart politician acknowledges the holes in his own knowledge and pauses to listen in the presence of someone wiser.

Maybe she was just having a bad day. But on open mic night Ms. Lopez seemed more Opal Covey than Carty Finkbeiner.

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